Sunday, May 11, 2008

Losing My Desire


It wasn't long ago that I couldn't drive past a Target without being consumed with lust. I yearned for the shiny red shopping cart, for the seasonal decor and knock off clothing. Every item tossed into the cart promised a better life, closer friends, a thinner physique, a happier home. A spree through Nordstrom's or Old Navy would make me hipper, cooler, slimmer, a better friend. Toys R Us offered hours of entertainment for the kids, a break for me, and and the latest and greatest plastic from Fisher Price.

After watching the Story of Stuff and The 11th Hour, it dawned on me that buying things wasn't so great for the planet. For every truck load of goods shipped to market, thirty two head to the landfill. Only 1% of the stuff we buy is still in use six months later. With those statistics in mind, I stopped shopping cold turkey. But it was like an addict stops. I still had the desire. I still craved the red and white picnic blanket, hungered for new Crocs for the kids, and pined for a brightly colored summer dish set. I still believed that things could make me happy. Because it wasn't good for me in the larger sense, though, I abstained.

Time passed and I stopped thinking about Target, about Bed Bath & Beyond, about Toys R Us. I was so busy chatting at the farmers' market, planting a garden, growing beans, peas and carrots from seed to plate, biking to town, discussing books with my book club, and making yogurt, that I didn't have time to buy things much less dream about buying things. Instead, I discovered hobbies, learned new skills, developed new friends, got outside and soaked up dirt and sunshine. I stopped listening to the marketplace telling me who I was and listened to myself. I found where my home lies and my place in it.

My oldest - aka Evil Knievel - is ready for a new scooter. He's beyond ready, having long outgrown the babyish one that he uses to perform jumps and wheelies along our sidewalk. I've yet to be to find a scooter in decent condition on Craigslist, though. The T-Ball set also broke and the little guy isn't up for pitched hits yet. My wallet bursts with Toys R Us gift certificates leftover from my reward card days. The closest Toys R Us is a short five minute drive from one son's school.

A year ago, I would have spent those gift certificates the week they arrived in the mail. I would have eagerly loaded the boys in a TRU shopping cart and scouted the aisles for pirate toys, a new knight or ogre for the Imaginext castle collection, yet another Lightening McQueen car. Did we have the green Ramone yet? Now, the gift cards languish in my wallet, slowly multiplying as the months tick by.

In Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle, David Wann wrote that "when we change a few key priorities, many of our material wants will cease to be obsessions. It’s not just that we won’t need the next generation of gadgets and clothes; we truly won’t even want them." (5). My priorities have, indeed, changed. It's not that we don't need the scooter and T Ball set. It's that I truly don't want them. I can think of nothing I'd rather do less than swing by Toys R Us, or Target, or The Gap. When it comes down to it, I really have lost my desire.

22 comments:

Val said...

Girl this post spoke to me! "Every item tossed into the cart promised a better life, closer friends, a thinner physique, a happier home. A spree through Nordstrom's or Old Navy would make me hipper, cooler, slimmer, a better friend." Hello!! That's me!
I am trying to quit shopping, but it's hard...
I have seen The Story of Stuff, and am convicted I should quit shopping...

but did I mention it's hard? :P

This post gave me hope it will be easier.

Thank you :)

and Happy Mama's Day too!

innercitygarden said...

Well I'm still a sucker for a book shop (not that I've been in one for a while, but I'd still like to) but shopping in general just makes me feel a bit ill. A few weeks ago my Mum took me shopping for a few things I really needed. It wasn't even my money being spent on these essentials, I still felt sick. I just don't have what it takes to do all this consuming.

Congratulations on sticking with the no shopping thing, and val it really will get easier. You get out of the habit of it eventually. I even feel ill at all the stuff bought for me and my kid. My upcoming birthday fills me with dread because people will buy me things. I keep telling people I only want fair trade chocolate or wine. At least they're things I wont have to store for long.

pink dogwood said...

One of the things that bother me a lot is the goody bags my kids get from attending birthday parties. They are mostly filled with dollar store or party store buys that sometimes break before we even make it home. The ones that do make it home become clutter and eventually get thrown away. These plastic things provide joy for exactly 15 seconds and then go and live in some landfill for an eternity.

Sorry, this comment has nothing do to with your write up (which is very inspirational to me - I am still trying to become what you already are)

Jennifer said...

I'm with InnerCityGarden... buying makes me feel ill. Well, not buying everything... but buying things new in a "shopping" type way. I've finally realized this...

My husband and I went out shopping for the first time in a few months... with the sole purpose of buying him a sorely needed new pair of shoes. The method of choice was the local sporting goods store, with their huge selection of Dansko, Merrel, etc. shoes (the kind that will last a long time and can be repaired).

I have a weakness for shoes... and there, on the pile of boxes were the newest Dansko sandals. SO cute. JUST perfect for summer dresses and skirts and everying unpractical. Sigh.

My husband said, "Why don't you try them on? They are really cute!"

I thought about it... and remembered how I felt LAST time I bought shoes and actually NEEDED them, and I STILL felt nauseated for days afterwards at the expenditure. No shoe buying for me! I'll just ogle... and maybe they will hit the factory seconds sometime.

I guess the point is that I am starting to listen to myself... and make smart choices. I already have pair of sandals that can be worn with dresses OR with anything else, in great condition. Who needs more?

Joyce said...

I so agree with you that shopping has become some kind of hobby- almost a sickness with a lot of people. But, having said that, I think if you already looked for a scooter on Craigslist and couldn't find one, it's okay to get the scooter. After all, it gets your son outside, playing actively, instead of parked in front of the TV. Our kids didn't have too many toys, and only got new ones for Christmas and birthdays, but a few basic things for playing outside, or pretending inside, were kind of considered essential by us. It wasn't a "keeping up with the Joneses" thing, just giving them a few tools that kept them busy for hours. Well, that's just my two cents.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

You're so right! Buying stuff is NOT good for the planet. This was a great, thoughtful, provocative, interesting and important post.

Green Bean said...

Val: It is hard. It's like giving up an addiction - or at least was for me. Suddenly, I could care less and, like ICG said, dread going to buy something I need or having someone buy stuff for us.

ICG: I'm already dreading Xmas and all its excess and it's over half a year away. My family has gotten pretty good at giving us "experiences" instead of stuff but Xmas - there are just so many people giving stuff for no real reason.

Dogwood: Ug! I hate those goody bags. We went to a party last week and my son came home with one goody bag, one plastic bag filled with tons of non-fair trade chocolate for the pinata, and a couple of new items (large ball, art set) as extra party favors. One of the items from the goody bag didn't even work when we took it out. I actually save up all that stuff, though, (the working stuff at least) and give it to my kids' dentist office. They have a treasure box full of cheap plastic crap and I figure by us giving them our cheap plastic crap they'll buy less of it. Plus, it gets that stuff out of the house.

Jennifer: That is it. Buying things in a "let's go shopping" sort of way. I do the same thing as you now - listen to myself - and a lot of times completely forget about what it was that I wanted a few days later. Congrats. :)

Joyce: You are right and I do plan to buy the scooter . . . I just can't bring myself to go to the store. Would you mind going for me? ;-) I get your point though. I think we need to differentiate between abstaining because we know that shopping has turned into a sickness and abstaining because we are trying to live an austere life and we refuse to buy anything. There is a happy middle ground and that is where we should all aim to be. I'm not opposed to buying anything new. I just hate those stores. They make me feel overwhelmed and slightly sick.

Mary: Merci.

eco 'burban mom said...

Again, this post is inspiring! Over the last couple of months, I have been learning to live with less retail and today I realized I have started to dread retail. The Costco coupons came in the mail and I remarked to my husband that there was not one thing in there that I needed or wanted. Three months ago I could have spent 20 minutes tearing out coupons and making a list of things we couldn't live without.

I haven't been in a Target for anything other than a prescription in a long time... but it's going to end at some point. I do need dog food, and they have the only brand my doggies eat at a much lower price than the vet. With a large family and small budget I do have to watch my pennies somewhere. But, for the first time, I think I will make it through the Target with only the dog food, prescriptions and band aids that are on my list. I don't even have the slightest twinge of desire for some new - yet disposable - item. Strange. I am not used to the feeling yet!

I have found great fun in buying a glass pitcher at the thrift store. I loved chatting with the crafters where I purchased my dish towels. I think I have made a friend with the woman who sources all of my locally produced food and beauty products. I cook more, but I have more time. I spend more money for a loaf of bread, but I have more money in the bank because I no longer buying packaged, processed things I don't need.

I can't say I won't ever buy anything from a Target again, I have 4 growing boys after all. But, I certainly buy much, much less and I'm loving it!

Thank you, Grean Bean, for inspiring us all to find the meaning in how and what we buy and what it means for our famlies!! Good luck with the new scooter and tball set...

arduous said...

Great post, GB. I like you have experienced the same loss of desire to shop... I think shopping really is an addiction. That high that you get after shopping is nice and all, but I've replaced it with other possibly more meaningful highs like the exercise high you get when you walk to work, or the high you get when you cook a delicious dinner for your favorite people.

I'd be interested though in what your sons think. Do they see a scooter or t-ball set as a need or a want? I think the huge advantage you have is that they are so young, that you will possibly influence their buying decisions forever, but I am sure it will be much harder when they are teenagers to convince them that the latest cell phone or mp3 player or hoverboards or whatever else technology we have then is not a "need."

MamaBird said...

So, I loved your post but *even more* your gem hidden in the comments about donating cheap plastic trinkets to your dentist's office. Genius!! And yes, shopping is a habit, like anything, which takes awhile to break. I need to break the bookstore habit most of all. Then the desiring of seedlings and soil amendments! ;)

Donna said...

I'm not as far along as you, but I'm certainly heading in the same direction! I'm amazed at my new disinterest in shopping, and I haven't even seen "The Story of Stuff," yet. I have a question, though. How on earth did you get your family to cooperate with giving you (& your kids?) experiences instead of stuff?!!!

CindyW said...

I think the addiction is the perfect way of describing shopping. Even now when I don't shop much other than absolutely necessary (though that definition is different from person to person), I still immediately click into the mode in a store I really like - PrAna for me. My eyes busily scan everything on the racks; my hands start moving items off the racks. Luckily these days I don't go to stores much at all and I have developed a much higher bar for " I really really need it" :)

The best part is that I really don't feel deprived. On the contrary, I feel unburdened and richer (more in the bank). So it's all good.

CindyW said...

Oh one other thing: yesterday in our neighborhood park, a kid found a dried-out gecko skeleton. He was an instant hero. Before long, a bunch of kids had already arranged a schedule for their show-n-tell. Owen this Monday, Kate getting it on Wednesday, then Alexandra next week...

Who knew that a dried out gecko skeleton would become the hottest item in the neighborhood. While good toys are nice, apparently things dug out of the ground are way better.

Electronic Goose said...

This is my first stop by your blog, on a suggestion by Nadine at In Blue Ink ...

This is wonderful! I too strive to not shop and consume less, tread lightly. I'm curious how your kids reacted to the change ...

Domestic Accident said...

Your post is my goal. This is truly what I want, what I'm striving for. I'm not there yet. When I have a bad day, I still get that nagging desire to wander around Target with a Starbucks in my hand as if shopping for cheap, China stuff is a panacea for all that I can't control. Yuck.

I think happiness lies in this simplicity, in this contentment for the present.

kale for sale said...

Good one. Arduous ruined Target for me forever with her, " I won't buy anything," scream at the entrance. I think of it everytime I pass the red bullseye. The biggest kicker for me was the description I read of the factory showcase warehouses that stretched on forever and ever in China. Everything I see now is from one of those warehouses and it's so unappealing. Handmade items capture my attention now. The hardest thing is I have to maintain a professional wardrobe during the week. The best I can do is buy good classic pieces that last for years. I dread the shopping for them though.

Green Bean said...

Arduous: For the record, I am actually going to buy them the scooter and T Ball set. I just don't want to go to the store. Please don't make me! My boys are blissfully clueless at this point and happy to keep making do with what we have. We've instituted a system where they earn a quarter for each job they do. Then, they are free to spend their money on what they want - if they have it with them. My oldest "needs" more teddy bears constantly but has quickly figured out that you can get a MUCH better deal on them buying them at a garage sale or a thrift store than new. I regret this new system when they buy some piece of junk plastic ninja in the thrift store's gumball machines. When they are teens, I'm sure it will be harder but I think having them earn the money they spend is one step. For now, kids just get used to a new way of being. They are more creative without all those toys and they still have plenty. We don't "keep up with the Joneses" and for the most part none of us even notice.

Mamabird: Yes, I was pretty proud of that method of pawning off unavoidable cheap plastic stuff without it hitting the landfill immediately.

Donna: My husband was all for less stuff. He's harder about other things like TV. ;-) I do think it important to turn the TV for kids though because there are so many commercials. Basically, my kids just adjusted. Both technically qualify as "spirited" kids but, despite some earlier fits, it is just the way we live. We periodically clean out and donate toys. They can negotiate and make decisions about what they want to keep and if they want something new (usually used, for the thrift store), they either buy it with their own money (see response to Arduous - in which case they had to work to get it) or they can agree to trade something they own for it. We have a 1 (toy) in, 2-5 out rule. For birthdays, we asked for experiential gifts and, let's face it, they still got some things. Again, much of it was used. For unwanted/unneeded gifts, it often migrates as a donation sooner or later. Finally, not going to the store keeps those "wants/needs" down. They don't see it and therefore don't ask for it. Much like us. My first step to stop shopping was to stay out of the stores.

Cindy: The gecko is a prime example about how there is so much richness for our kids to discover. Layering dozens of toys over all that, I think, actually deprives kids from the magic of the natural world. They're so busy moving stuff around, they are less inclined to notice it.

Electronic Goose: Welcome! See my answers to Donna and Arduous. Short answer, they adjusted (mine are 3 and 5, though, not teens). We talk about not needing so much, about many children not having what we have and about all the other wonderful things we could be doing. It is worth, imo, to ignore a few outbursts and tantrums (rarer and rarer these days when it comes to stuff) to live an overall better life.

Domestic Accident: It's a journey, right? It takes time to break a habit.

Katrina: Yes, handmade is far more meaningful, memorable. Who wants stuff from miles of warehouses that the entire rest of the world has. Where is our individuality. I'm proud of my newly-green neighbor who is redecorating her house by going to antique stores/faires because she is trying to not buy new. The added benefit, she noted, is that her house is unique and doesn't look like the pottery barn catalog.

Going Crunchy said...

Oh yay, great post. I will let myself get excited about shopping at Goodwill though. It is still in uber moderation- - but I think that we all like to "gather" a bit. There I get what I need and experience shopping, but know that I'm reducing, reusing and the money goes for a good cause.

I think I get more of a thrill out of grocery shopping lately. Red beautiful apples are just such a thrill. I think shopping for veggies give me a little food high.

ruralaspirations said...

Love, love, love this post! It is so true. While I haven't shopped as a hobby in years, I still loved the occasional thrill of buying new things, shuffling through catalogs, etc. But like you I've found that the desire just isn't there anymore. With so many other things to do, shopping and consuming just seems like such a waste of time, energy, money...everything.

Wendy said...

Ahh! Don't you feel that sense of relief and release from not always feeling like there's something you need to get. I love, love the freedom of not shopping.

I still buy stuff, even after my month long participation in "Not Buying It", but I don't feel like something is missing from my life if I don't have A, B or C gadget, and I'm a lot more selective in what I choose to bring home.

The fact that I gave up my credit card has helped curb my impulse spending, and I actually seem to have more MONEY now that I no longer have a credit card. Funny how that works ;) - of course, you won't see MasterCard or Visa telling you that.

Mama Zen said...

Fantastic post! I buy too much for my daughter. WAAAY too much!

Christy said...

It took me about 6 months of not shopping to get to the point where I don't want to anymore. It is a hard habit to give up. Luckily, my son never developed the habit.

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